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Behind the scenes at the Manchester Science Spectacular - 2017

Have you ever wondered what it takes to organise and deliver a public engagement event? Angela Foxcroft, Programme Coordinator of the North-West England MRC Fellowship Scheme in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, provides a behind the scenes look at the recent Manchester Science Spectacular.

This was the sixth year that we took part in the Manchester Science Spectacular and this time around we were joined by PhD students from the MRC Centre for Drug Safety Science at the University of Liverpool. The event, which attracts over 1,500 visitors each year, has a dedicated spot on our public engagement calendar and requires rigorous planning for it to be a success.

Although the event took place on 21 October, we started planning way back in August. With such a diverse range of studies within our Fellowship Scheme it can be difficult to decide on a focus, but the team eventually settled on immunotherapy – it’s new, it’s interesting and a lot of people don’t know anything about it. We then had to tackle our next questions:

How do you explain immunotherapy to the public?
What do they already know?
What is the message we want our participants to walk away with?
How do you create a fun, interactive activity that takes no more than 5 minutes?

Most adults know something about the immune system but a lot of children don’t. As far as they are aware it is the magic of Calpol® that makes them better. We started by focusing on our armies of immune cells and how good they are at helping us to fight disease. Coming up with an activity to tell this story was not easy but, after much discussion, we decided to create our very own skittle alley; the skittles took on the role of protected cancer cells while the ball represented the immune system. As only one person at a time can play skittles, we reused some tried and tested activities from previous years to keep our audience engaged. With these activities under our belts, it took the pressure off our new skittles extravaganza!

We had seven researchers on board and several boxes to transport to the venue. Having arrived at 9 am, we were ready to unleash our activities on the public at 11 am. The event runs for five hours, so it is a long day for everyone involved - it’s always essential to draw up a rota and plan in plenty of coffee, water and chocolate runs to keep everyone going! By the end of the day everyone was exhausted but taking part in an event like this is very rewarding and completely different to our day jobs. We walked away from the experience with the knowledge that our skittle alley/immunotherapy analogy was well received, and that the next generation of research scientists went away, MRC ruler in hand, with an idea about this fantastic new treatment.